Let’s Revive Our Cultural Heritage for Early Childhood Education

Children learn most effectively and fruitfully when when they are taught through their culture; mother tongue, stories and games play a critical role. Instead of throwing them to the unknown and threatening world of imported games, stories, poems and role plays it is imperative to embed the early childhood care and development in the richness of local cultures.

Formal early childhood education is a very recent phenomenon which received attention after the Government of Pakistan made a commitment to the international community for Education for All. As it is not a home grown idea, the supposed practitioners look to the Western world to provide a recipe in terms of approach, methodology and content.

Our formal schools in the public sector have no history of providing care and education to children as young as three year old. The prerequisite is a teacher who is a caregiver in letter and spirit, who believes in children and their well being and takes every measure to contribute positively in their mental, emotional, social and physical development. Unfortunately, our school culture displays a totally different picture. Teachers are the custodians of authority over children. Parents don’t challenge their harsh behavior but, on the contrary, support and reinforce that. A famous proverb says, “flesh is yours (teachers) while bones are ours (parents)” Teachers, as a result, have internalized that authoritarian role fully.

In order to make early childhood education meaningful and productive, we need to go beyond the culture of formal schools and to learn from the rich local traditions of upbringing in the home and neighborhood environment.

Parents and extended families provide a cozy environment of love, affection and emotional security. Our culture has an endless list of stories with subtle educational themes which typically grandmothers would tell young children at night as the last ritual of the day. The way the stories were narrated they enriched the imagination of the children. Teachers must learn the art of story telling from those mothers and grandmothers who were not necessarily literate but who understood the minds of children, knew their curiosity and were well aware of their learning needs. Instead of snubbing the curiosity they encouraged the questions. Teachers also need to learn how they developed an intimate relationship with children by narrowing down the physical distance, pulling them close giving meaning human touch, relating the contents of the story to individual children making them feel important; their particular habits and likes and dislikes, varying the rhythm  of voice and changing the gestures in a way that each word of the story became alive; children left their personalities behind and transformed in to the characters of the stories they fancied the most. Stories were told with such fondness and warmth that children were lulled to sleep. Such story telling increases vocabulary, hones language skills, enriches imagination, increases creativity and improves logical thinking. This learning takes place because they live the story while listening. And they don’t forget these stories all their lives!

Young children have been learning social etiquette, language, group play and group work and societal norms through role playing since centuries. Same is the case with playing local games which run into fifties. Though in the large urban centers role playing and playing local games is almost forgotten in the eagerness to ape whatever is coming from outside, still young children in rural Pakistan having exciting times playing games and role plays.

The plains of Punjab have a rich heritage of children’s literature in its bosom. The stories have been told generation after generation for centuries. There is nothing wrong in benefiting from the great literature coming from the West but the beginning should be made from where children as well teachers don’t feel confused and discouraged as they don’t understand the cultural references they have not experienced.

While developing a manual for early childhood care and development caregivers for Plan International, I took inspiration from our rich cultural heritage and very liberally used stories and games from the invaluable treasure. The evidence from the field shows very encouraging results; teachers feel at home and don’t experience a culture shock; they know what they are doing  and what objectives they are supposed to achieve.

Without laying the foundation of early childhood education in the literary heritage of our land, we can neither achieve the goal of quality education nor produce thinking minds with rationality and creativity.

Call for Action

This blog is also a call for documenting stories, poems, games and role plays from homes, villages, towns and cities of Pakistan. I would be very happy to receive this cultural heritage from you and publish it here and on Khoj website.

22 Responses to Let’s Revive Our Cultural Heritage for Early Childhood Education

  1. Saqib Awan says:

    Hi; what a unique idea. I totally agree with you. Our culture is rich and have lots of hidden treasures. All we need is to explore it. Imagination and creative thinking more affective in our mother language/culture.

  2. imran says:

    nice idea is to recollect all those stories,a forum where i would be able to get some stories.
    on my part i remember a couple of them that my granny used to narrate to me while i was 5 or less, the images of are still there.i love them. and i think they still contribute to my creativity.
    one of the story is ”ganjroo” (shaved headed small kid),youngest among the seven brothers. i will have to re-arrange the events, will mail you as soon as i complete it.

  3. irfan hoat says:

    Great…ya I agree that without the total transformation of the society we cannot achieve our dream to educate every child. Nasira, I think first of all we should give importance to indigenous knowledge, as you said, so that our child gets real knowledge, this cannot happen if government do not start at least primary education in mother tongue. But education in mother tongue is not enough; the “syllabus” should also be based on local wisdom. Every village should have its own syllabus and teacher of the school should be responsible for its development. Government can give outlines but content should be developed by the teacher him/her self.
    Thanks for sharing this worth full reading.

  4. Fawad Usman Ali says:

    The idea of embedding folk stories in early childhood or primary education is a capital one. The teachers have to become story tellers and performers at the same time. To be taught is boring but when “learning” is promoted thru stroy telling and performnce, it has a lasting impact.

  5. Fawad Usman Ali says:

    I was talking to a young Pakistani social/labor activist based in USA the other day on facebook. I asked him, what do you do? And he said, I listen to stories and I tell stories — that’s all. And it struck me then. How true and yet we fail to recognize the importance of story telling in our life, education, learning and acquiring wisdom althougyh we were brought up in the laps of our Nanis and Daadis listening to stories and folk rhymes.

  6. Fawad Usman Ali says:

    Chor te lathi dau janny, Mein te paiyeeaa kally. Chor hura’n jo lathi chukki, paiyeeaa hori thally. One of the verses my daadi used to recite to us and she laughed mischievously during the time she was reciting this.

    Then there was this story about a beautiful teen aged girl who becomes an orphan. She disguises herself as a boy for self protection and finds a job as an errand boy at the Chaudhry’s haveli. She falls in love with the Chaudhry’s handsome son but of course she never reveals to him that she is a girl. Now the Chaudhry was looking for a suitable match for his son and the errand boy would invariably be the go-between. But “he” made sure that the wrong message was conveyed each time and the talks would fail. Whenever the Chaudhry would admonish “him”, “he” would say: “Maaf karna Chaudhry ji, Akhay meri chum di zubaan ae.” So “he” admitted that he had a leathery tongue which slipped at the wrong time! Of course in the end, all ends well when the Chaudhry’s son finds out the smart looking errand boy is in fact a beautiful young maiden. He insists to the Chaudhry that he wants to get married to her. And eventually after some hiccups, the lovers are united.

  7. Fawad Usman Ali says:

    Most of our literary heritage in Punjab, in Pakistan, come from oral traitition. Over a period of time, modifications and additions have also been made. So it is invariably difficult for a serious researcher to dig out the so called original work. For instance, there are several versions of a number of Bulleh Shah’s kafis, the gist is the same but words, expressions, phrases may differ. Same for many others. This allowance has to be given to an oral culture. Not having “authentic” written literature does not imply that a particular land or people were devoid of learning or wisdom. It means that if we are seriously interested in enriching our education at any level today by embedding local culture and literature, we must be ready to get our hands dirty. And Nasira and Khoj have picked up that responsibility for themselves. Its hard work but very rewarding and enriching in itself.

  8. Fawad Usman Ali says:

    Based on Paulo’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I would further recommend that the social mobilization theory and methodology MUST incorporate learnings from folk heritage. And these should be localized. We have successfully tried Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussein, Waris Shah, Bahu and Khwaja Ghulam Fareed in our social mobilization work sporadically and with great success. I wonder why we are shy of coming up with this methodology here in Punjab. Sudhaar has started working on guidlines for social mobilization based on this principle and we expect to have a draft ready by end April for sharing with all those who are interested. I am hoping that Khoj would provide us great insights in finalizing this humble endeavour. And surely many of the readers would be interested as well.

    • Sadaf says:

      Fawad, I would be really interested to learn more about your methodology in using great thinkers from our region in your social mobilization work.


      • Fawad Usman Ali says:

        Dear Sadaf — We are working with a friend Natasha Ansari to abridge and adapt Pedagogy of the Oppressed in the context of Punjab. We are at a stage where two of the three chapters have been abridged in English. We are reviewing these right now while Natasha is workingon the third and last chapter. The next step is to embed appropriate verses from Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah, Shah Hussein, Baba Farid and Khwaja Ghulam Fareed in the abridged/adapted text. We already have some translations/verses selected. The last stage stage would be to translate the ‘manual’ (if it can be called a manual — maybe we will call it Gal Baat) in Urdu/Punjabi/Seraiki mixture. Everyone is welcome to share things and add to what we are planning to do. The final product will be available for all — soft copy without charges and hard copy at cost to cost. My em is fawad08@gmail.com. Pls feel free to contact me

  9. Riffat Sardar says:

    What a great idea. Our cultural heritage is very rich and has to offer alot. However we need to be selective on what is suitable for children at that age. Some of my childhood stories that i heard were so tragic, that left deep impression on my mind; which lasted forever!
    The website is great and i wish all success to Nasira for putting it up. i am sure we will all learn from the exchanges. best regards

  10. Shahana Manzar says:

    Yes indeed the cultural heritage plays a very important role in building a child’s skills, behaviour, and etiquette etc. But more than that, I think this is the time to reinforce the value system one wants a child to have, and story telling is probably the strongest method. What I remember from my childhood is our grand mother, and my mother telling us stories of the Prophets in a way we could relate with. It really was the biggest treat of the day, way better than television and computers. that gave values that cut across cultures, and laid a sound and solid foundation for a decent personality to develop. Again this is what we learn from the Quran also, many many stories are told and re told, each time from a different angle. In fact the more I’ve thought about your article, the more I’ve been reflecting on how a story is told, re-told in the Quran, and how its varying nuances and details teach us something new each time. Local culture, Nasira I agree is a rich source, but not of what is prevalent in the name of local culture inculcates the values and world view that would make our children successful in their lives. And when I talk of success, its success in the world, a secondary objective though, but most importantly success in the hereafter. But most definitely, a great job done.. and thank you for sharing this. Be Blessed in your endeavors always.

  11. Sadaf says:

    Dear Nasira,

    I discovered this post through Twitter and was glad to find your blog.

    I agree that it is a great disservice to adopt Western or other cultural models of early education, when our own traditions and values offer both rich educational contexts and inspiring curriculum content for our young generation.

    It seems like you and I have many common interests around early childhood education in Pakistan. You may find my blog to be of interest as well! If you are on twitter, let’s connect there as well (https://twitter.com/SadafShallwani).


    • Nasira Habib says:

      Thank you very much, Sadaf, for your interest in my work. There is a huge treasure in our culture we can benefit from not only in early childhood education but also in other arenas of our life. But as Shahana has rightly pointed out, we need to be cautious in admiring and promoting our local cultural traditions as every practice is not worth emulating. Gender equity is a serious prerequisite for the good health of our society and in order to be some where near to achieving that we need to make a departure from or to re-write some of the local traditions.

      Knowledge, wherever it is, belongs to every body and if it is to our advantage we must grab it. Local cultures are important as they are closer to our realities and emerge out of local geographic, agricultural, economic, social and political conditions we must learn from them but there is nothing wrong in benefiting from other cultures, as I clarified in the blog itself. What is harmful is to be the blind followers relegating any and every thing that is local as ignorance and low culture. We are heirs to one of the greatest civilizations in the world. There is so much to learn and revive from the great educational traditions in South Asia.

      I read your blog post on play some time ago and wanted to comment but could not for some reason. I would post my comments soon.

      I would be very happy to explain Khoj methodology which is a result of eighteen years’ of action research I did in participation with the urban and rural women, children and the communities. I will send you my email address soon.

  12. Sabrina Aziz says:

    Thanks Madam Nasira, you allways come up with great ideas.

    I will try to share a story which is a real story of our area told by my grand mother.

    I am also working with the ECCD caregivers to bring grand parents in our ECCD centers to tell stories to the children. we can document those stories and the methodologies of story telling to share with others.

  13. Victoria says:


    I agree with you that culture needs to be the basis for learning in an early childhood environment. In the United States, we are facing a huge cutltural change in the next 15 years- minority groups will soon become the majority and likewise. As an educator, I struggle to find that balance to ensure I am incorporating each and every family’s culture into my classroom. By doing do, I am able to form strong partnerships with the children and their families. Children feel a sense of belonging and a stronger sense of self that will only ensure they learn to the best of their abilities.

    I want to thank you again for informing me on issues in Pakistan. This week I am focusing on poverty. Is there any information you can share with me about the poverty you encounter in your professional life? What are your thoughts on poverty throughout the world?

    Thank you.


    • Nasira Habib says:

      Thanks, Victoria, for your interest.

      Poverty is a very broad subject and has many faces. I suggest you to be a bit specific in your questions and also try to contextualize them . I would love to respond.

  14. Victoria says:

    Thanks Nasira-
    I am interested in any information really because I would like to know more about your area. Do you know how many childen and/or the percentage that are living in poverty in Pakistan? Are there any government supports for families for food, housing, and education? And lastly, how about the education system? I am interested in knowing about access to early childhood education specifically. Is it accessible to all children or only families that can afford to pay? And what ages do early childhood classrooms serve (is there care for infants, toddlers, and preschool)? In the United States, childcare costs can exceed that of a home payment. There are currently 16.1 million children living in poverty (about 23%) but many citizens aren’t aware of these extremely high numbers for a developed country. Early childhood education is not accessible to all families but there is government help for those families who live in poverty and can’t afford to pay. When my daughter was an infant, I was spending half my pay on childcare costs.

    Thank you again for the information.


  15. Nasira Habib says:

    The latest post on the blog answers some of your questions. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

    Early childhood education is relatively a very new phenomenon in the history of education in Pakistan. It has been formally taken up by the government only after making a commitment to EFA goals. In the public sector, work on early childhood education is negligible. In the province of Punjab, a budget allocation has been made for the first time for ECE in the current annual budget for 2,000 schools out of a total of 58,535 government schools. How much of the allocated budget is approved and utilized is not known. Almost 65% of the total population of Pakistan lives in Punjab.
    The high fee private sector schools do offer various versions of early childhood education, all borrowed from the developed West.
    The national curriculum on ECE 2007 is based on High Scope approach. It caters the children between the age of 4-5 years. There are private schools and day care centers where 2.5 year olds are also accepted but these are all expensive set ups meant for moneyed people.

  16. Zulfiqar Bachani says:

    Dear Nasira, this is simply great. highly thankful for sharing this blog. i know, one of my collegaue collected details of some local games for stimulation of each develpomental domians. Lets talk to her, will try to share those with you. Stay blessed

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